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Google Reinvents a Broken Wheel

So, today's New York Times confirms what's been clear for a few weeks now: The much-hyped Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) "Gphone" isn't really a device at all, but a mobile-phone operating system that it will make freely available. Handset makers such as Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) , HTC, LG, and Samsung will incorporate the operating system into new offerings that will reportedly run on the T-Mobile and Sprint networks in the United States.

This is what's supposedly going to change the world? And does anyone else have the cheek to ask this?

Please. There are already Linux-based phone operating systems out there, not to mention plenty of other systems that are licensed and already have big developer bases, such as Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Windows Mobile. Google's entering a very crowded field, and it's doing so with a concept that's already yesterday's news.

That becomes painfully clear if you think about Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPhone, which the "Gphone" is so widely rumored to be about to kill. This assertion ignores the very essence of what makes the iPhone great: the marriage of sleek, perfect hardware and carefully selected, meticulously designed software. Steve Jobs obviously took a hard look at the sad state of cell-phone operating systems and leapfrogged all of them with a single bound. He did it with careful control, not just with what got put in, but also with what was left out.

For proof of what goes wrong in the cell-phone biz -- and what will likely happen to any Gphone -- look no further than the Samsung BlackJack, offered by AT&T (NYSE: T  ) here in the United States. I've got one. It's a decent little piece of hardware -- especially for the price -- but it's ugly and often a major pain in the tuckus to use, because of horrendous application development by the handset manufacturer and service provider.

The software that the operator packed onto the phone is simply horrible: a klutzy mail program; a nightmarishly ugly home screen that requires XML-programming capabilities if you hope to get rid of AT&T's nag screens for add-on services; a blackjack game that could have been written in 1985. Every application has a different look and feel. That's what happens when you rely on manufacturers, carriers, and third parties to write software. They don't always get it great.

They often don't even get it adequate. Why? Much of it is plain old (shortsighted) greed. The aim of the carriers' aps is to keep you inside their walled garden, so the lousy, proprietary mail reader works fine for them. Ditto the text-message program masquerading as an IM chat client (the better to force you to sign up for unlimited messaging).

Yet another phone OS, with or without the Google nameplate, can't solve the problem of avarice and uncreative thinking in the mobile biz. The folks at Apple have nothing to fear at all.

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